Mar 172003
 

Megan McArdle discusses the necessity, if you wish to socialize in Manhattan, of avoiding political discussion, if you have politics like hers or mine. But sometimes avoiding politics just isn’t enough. I once started talking, at a dinner party at my sister’s, about Japanese painting with a guy I’d never seen before. One interesting thing about traditional Japanese art, I said, is that vanishing-point perspective does not appear. My interlocutor maintained that this was because the artists had no interest in perspective; they were trying to do something else, although he never specified quite what. I pointed out that perspective was a scientific discovery, made by the Italians in the 15th century, and that if the Japanese had known of it they certainly would have used it, at least sometimes. So how does he explain the fact that it never appears until the 19th century?

Sure, I was egging him on a little on the Western hegemony front. But only a little, and I was completely unprepared for what came next. He stood up, announced to the room that he couldn’t take any more of this, gathered up his girlfriend, and stormed out. My sister, who brooks no nonsense, banished him for life.

(Update: Stumbling Tongue says anyone who thinks Manhattan is bad ought to try Italy.)

  16 Responses to “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”

  1. Aaron wrote: " I pointed out that perspective was a scientific discovery, made by the Italians in the 15th century, and that if the Japanese had known of it they certainly would have used it, at least sometimes. So how does he explain the fact that it never appears until the 19th century?"

    I trust your question to him was strictly (and not just "a little") for the purpose of pushing his buttons.

    ACD

  2. I have come across almost this exact issue in another field. In the evolution of music, we start with rhythm, then octaves and fifths and then procede to scales, and then harmony, and then counterpoint. Counterpoint is a technical advance comparable to perspective. Go down this route judiciously and it’s easy to get rid of any number of lunatic anti-westernites before the canaps run out :-)

  3. In the Japanese game of Go it’s generally a mistake to attack an enemy piece directly, since this induces them to build up a defense.

    I wonder what he would have said if instead of contradicting him, you over-agreed with him. For instance, "Yes, and the use of perspective in Western Art actually shows how it was scientifically less advanced."

    He’d agree quickly if he thought you were on his team. But that opens to door to exaggerating the point even further, to absurdity, until he balks at his own premises.

  4. Somehow this never happens to me in Macon, Georgia, but maybe everyone just knows better than to invite me to such events in the first place.

  5. There’s no question that the guest in question behaved abominably. It’s only fair, though, to point out that there was an incendiary discussion before we ever got on the subject of Japanese art, in which you maintained that the HIV virus doesn’t cause AIDS. Of course, there’s no excuse for taking that issue personally either, but that’s what provoked the dudgeon, I think. The art discussion was just the last straw. You do have a way with straws, brother mine.

  6. Well, yeah, but my readers can’t handle the whole truth. Besides, I didn’t maintain that HIV didn’t cause AIDS. I maintained that it wasn’t proven. I maintain further that I could have driven the guy out using Japanese art alone.

  7. Pissing people off is simply a necessity if you have an opinion of any kind.

  8. Ha…I had my brother-in-law, who is big Martha Stewart fan, so ticked at me he was calling me a Commie and unpatriotic because I posited that Martha had done more harm to the American working mother than any other individual in a long time. So it isnt only politics that can alientate folks at a dinner party.

  9. Our mutual friend, Bob Mack, called me last night to say he was "literally dying" in a sea of Bush-hating pod people in L.A. After the last year and a half, Bob went from loathing Bush et al to genuine respect for Bush and a positive adulation for Rumsfeld, who not only is unfazed by the sea of press people he swims in daily but seems to stay above it all with the spritely ease of a freshly popped cork.

  10. "I maintain further that I could have driven the guy out using Japanese art alone."

    That’s hilarious both in and out of context.

  11. At least he left. One day I told an abstract artist, in a very Mike Meyers way, that abstract art was neither abstract nor art. She tried to strangle me.

  12. Neither abstract nor art? Christ, you don’t even pretend, do you?

  13. No, I don’t pretend. Sometimes I pretend to pretend.

  14. Apparently there are some Roman artworks that demonstrate perspective. I can’t find an example right now.

  15. I’ve heard that Byzantine art reverses ordinary persepective, and it was made before the 15th century, although I don’t know enough to have the foggiest clue what that actually means. Something about the icon looking at you, I think.

  16. I don’t know about Byzantine art, but there are a few Western medieval pictures, 11th or 12th century, in which the figures grow larger as they get farther away. That’s a sort of reversal of perspective.

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